If you’ve ever experienced a muscle spasm you will know it can be extremely painful. In some cases, a muscle may spasm in such a forceful manner that it results in a bruise on the skin! 1

Besides the sudden, sharp pain, you might also feel or see a hard lump of muscle tissue beneath your skin. A more serious muscle spasm doesn’t release on its own and may require manual stretching to help relax and lengthen the shortened muscle. 1,2

Muscle spasms occur when one or more of your muscles involuntary and forcibly contracts and cannot relax. These are very common and can affect any muscle in your body. Typically, they involve part or all of a muscle, or several muscles within a group. 3
The most common sites for muscle spasms are the thighs, calves, foot arches, hands, arms, abdomen and sometimes along the ribcage. 3

What causes muscle spasms?

There are numerous factors that can trigger the onset of muscle spasm. In many cases, however, the cause isn’t known. 2

8 Factors that may contribute to muscle spasms:

  1. Dehydration. 1
  2. Depletion of certain salts and minerals (electrolytes). 1
  3. Extreme heat. 1
  4. Pregnancy 2
  5. Muscle fatigue. 1
  6. Certain medical conditions. You might be at higher risk of muscle cramps if you have diabetes, or nerve, liver or thyroid disorders. 2
  7. Muscle spasms can also occur as a side effect of some drugs. The list below contains some medications that may cause muscle cramps: 4
    • Certain diuretics (“water pills”) that remove fluid from the body e.g. furosemide
    • Donepezil that is used to treat Alzheimer’s disease
    • Nifedipine, a treatment for high blood pressure
    • Raloxifene, an osteoporosis treatment
    • Some asthma medications e.g. salbutamol
    • Statin medications for cholesterol, such as atorvastatin
  1. Older people lose muscle mass, so the remaining muscle can get overstressed more easily 2

Treatment options for a muscle spasm 1,5

Here are some of the tips most recommended by experts:

  • Stop the activity that caused the cramp
  • Gently stretch and massage the cramping muscle
  • Hold the joint in a stretched position until the cramp stops

Certain over-the-counter medications may be used to treat aches and pains associated with muscle spasms. For pain relief, your healthcare professional may recommend or prescribe an NSAID (a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug). They work by blocking your body from making certain substances that cause pain and inflammation.
Muscle cramps usually go away on their own without treatment.

4 Steps that may help prevent muscle spasms

  1. Avoid dehydration. Drink plenty of liquids every day. 2
  2. Improve your fitness level to help avoid muscle fatigue.1
  3. Stretch regularly before and after exercise. 1
  4. Warm up before exercise. 1

When to see your doctor 2

See your doctor if your cramps:

  • Cause severe discomfort
  • Are associated with leg swelling, redness or skin changes
  • Are associated with muscle weakness
  • Happen frequently
  • Don’t improve with self-care
  • Aren’t associated with an obvious cause, such as strenuous exercise

Most muscle cramps are not serious, however, if your muscle cramps are severe, frequent, constant or of concern, see your doctor. 1

Speak to your healthcare provider or pharmacist to determine which treatment option is most suitable for you.

DISCLAIMER: This editorial has been commissioned and brought to you by iNova Pharmaceuticals. Content in this editorial is for general information only and is not intended to provide medical or other professional advice. For more information on your medical condition and treatment options, speak to your healthcare professional.

Name and business address of the holder of the certificate of registration: iNova Pharmaceuticals (Pty) Ltd,. Co. Reg. No. 1952/001640/07, 15e Riley Road, Bedfordview. Tel. No. 011 087 0000. For further information, speak to your healthcare professional. Further information is available on request from iNova Pharmaceuticals.


  1. What Really Causes Muscle Spasms and Cramps? [online] 2 November 2022 [cited November 2022]; Available from URL:
  2. Mayo Clinic. Muscle cramp. [online] [cited November 2022]; Available from URL:
  3. Cleveland Clinic. Muscle Spasms. [online] 3 November 2021 [cited November 2022]; Available from URL:
  4. Why Is My Leg Cramping? What Can Help? [online] 8 March 2022 [cited November 2022]; Available from URL:
  5. Muscle Relaxers: A List of Prescription Medications. [online] 11 July 2022 [cited November 2022]; Available from URL: 11/